Friday, December 30, 2011

How to implement a successful security and disaster recovery plan

by Philip Owens (CSO Online (Australia))

though security issues are often top of mind for many organisations, they are often not considered as part of a disaster recovery (DR) plan.

When a disaster occurs, it pays to be prepared so that the organisation can continue to operate as usual with minimal impact or disruption. Despite having sound backup strategies in place and making intelligent decisions to protect a company’s data, many organisations leave out the disaster recovery element of their security strategy which can lead to major disruptions in the event of an actual disaster.

With the recent earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, organisations need to be aware of the impact a natural disaster could have on their organisation from a security perspective and plan accordingly.

Conduct a security audit

Many organisations believe that having basic security measures in place such as having a firewall, making backups, patching systems and having user accounts with strong passwords are sufficient. Sadly this isn’t the case.

Loss of information can be catastrophic for an organisation. If a security attack is internal, default passwords and flaws that allow you to bypass the login mechanism are weaknesses that can be used in many different ways that administrators don’t really think about or have prepared for.

Therefore it helps to know where you stand in terms of your current security measures so that you’ll be better prepared to deal with the issues should they arise in the event of a disruption – whether it is due to a data breach, natural disaster or other unplanned event . While many organisations have IT and security administrators, it’s a good idea to have an external consultant run the audit for you.

A third party provides objectivity and a fresh perspective without having a conflict of interest. In order to identify potential security threats and issues, you will need to approach this with “malicious intent” and examine both critical and non-critical systems within the organisations. This includes looking beyond the perimeters and the highly visible systems. You should ideally look at all areas of your systems, no matter how secure you might think it is.

Choose the right technology for your organisation

The type of DR security technology that's right for your organisation will be based on your need and risk. You will need to gather the right team from different departments who can take a good look at your environment and assess the risks.

DR security technology will vary from organisation to organisation. This will depend on your company’s structure, network, applications, software and the level of complexity of your information system.

When considering which technologies to deploy, it’s always worth considering one that has universal implementation and will work with any and all types of infrastructure, systems, hardware and software. This becomes critical especially when you’re working in multiple sites within the same country and overseas.

Security products that can copy the entire environment virtually so that it can be quickly and accurately replaced in the case of a disaster should also be prioritised.

To reduce the amount of time your IT system is down during a disaster consider; Recovery Point Objective (RPO) which looks at how old the data is when recovered. Ideally, the recovery should take between 15 to 30 minutes. Compare this to traditional tape backup which could take up to 24 to 48 hours. Recovery Time Objective (RTO), which looks at how fast the system can be backed up and running on the virtual environment

Cloud-based services may also be an option for some organisations, especially as they offer organisations a cost effective option which can allow them to get their data up and running quickly.

Regularly test your disaster recovery plan

The ability of the disaster recovery plan to be effective in emergency situations can only be assessed if rigorous testing is carried out one or more times per year in realistic conditions by simulating circumstances that would be applicable in an actual emergency. The testing phase of the plan must contain important verification activities to enable the plan to stand up to most disruptive events.

When disruption hits, organisations need to ensure that they take the necessary steps to respond to malware attacks and data breaches to ensure business continuity within the organisation. This includes having an incident response plan as part of your DR strategy. Doing so will enable you to take the relevant procedures to recover your data and environment.

In conclusion

Being prepared and knowing the right steps to take is always key to managing a disruption. Having good security measures included in your DR plan will help keep your organisation running through a potential disaster and ensure your risks and costs are kept to a minimum.

Philip Owens is the director of technical services, Asia Pacific for NetIQ.

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